Very few fantasy relevant storylines fly below the radar this time of year. Those “sleepers” that you’ve known about for months have made their way into the mainstream with big preseason performances. Every semi-competitive owner in your league is aware of the latest injury news, and which players stand to benefit most as a result. To unearth a true sleeper this close to your draft – a player that no one else sees coming, you must be willing to venture into the darkest caverns of the fantasy landscape.
Even the least accomplished fake footballers will tell you that there is no corner darker, no situation bleaker, no pending catastrophe more detrimental to your team’s fantasy points than the 2013 Oakland Raiders. But if you’re willing to put on your waist high rubber boots, and wade through the silver and black excrement, there is a QB sleeper ready to emerge from the muck as a viable fantasy option.
Terrelle Pryor warrants your consideration as an end game lottery ticket on draft day.
It’s not that Matt Flynn has done anything to relinquish his stronghold on the Raiders starting QB job. In fact, through two preseason games, Flynn has looked rather competent (if noodle armed). Completing 16 of 21 passes for 161 yards, 1 TD, and 0 INTs has never lost anyone their starting gig. Matt Flynn’s unfortunate problem is that he’s living on borrowed time. The Raiders offensive line is going to get him murdered.
In Friday night’s preseason contest against the Saints, Flynn was sacked an absurd 5 times in the first half. The hits on Flynn have not just been your garden variety NFL sacks either. He’s getting absolutely blown up in every game. The disturbing visual evidence comes at the 46 second mark of this clip, and the 1:10 mark of this one.
Coming into the season, you’d have been hard pressed to find an authority who didn’t rank the Raiders offensive line as one of the three worst in the league. That was before starting left tackle Jared Veldheer (arguably the best player on the team) went down for the year with a torn triceps. Now the guy tasked with protecting Flynn’s blindside is former first round bust Alex Barron, who’s been out of football the last two seasons (because he stinks, not because he wanted to pursue a life of leisure).
If you see a fellow dressed like the grim reaper sitting in the black hole this year, that may not be your run-of-the-mill Raiders enthusiast wearing a clever costume. Chances are it’s the actual angel of death, biding his time until Barron leaves Flynn exposed to a hit that cleanly severs his head from the rest of his body.
All this is to say Terrelle Pryor will start games at QB for the Oakland Raiders at some point this season, possibly very soon. When that time comes, Pryor’s insertion into the Raiders starting line-up will be a matter of import for your fantasy teams.
Here’s what we know about Pryor:
- He is a supremely talented athlete. Pryor was regarded as the top football recruit in the nation coming out of high school, as well as one of the top basketball recruits.
- He stands 6’5”, 233 lbs., and runs a 4.4 forty yard dash. In high school, he reportedly had a 37 inch vertical leap. Those are freak measureables for a player his size.
- He was so raw coming out of Ohio State in 2011, most scouts expected him to switch positions. The fact that he’s even in the discussion at QB for the Raiders speaks to his progression at the position.
- He flashed on the pro level in his only NFL start (even if some of his completions were on hideous looking throws).
- It hasn’t all been good news. Check the 1:46 mark of this clip from the week 1 preseason tilt between the Raiders and Cowboys for an example of what really poor decision making on a football field looks like.
- He didn’t know how to throw a football until this offseason. (Wait, what?)
To that last point, Pryor is still very much a work in progress. His passing numbers from the preseason haven’t been very pretty (7 of 15, 97 yards, 0 TD, 1 sickening INT), but whatever Pryor is able to give fantasy owners as a passer should be considered a bonus.
In his start against San Diego in week 17 last year, he ran the ball 9 times for 49 yards and a TD. So far this preseason, he’s run 7 times for 46 yards. New Raiders OC Greg Olsen has implemented read option plays out of the pistol formation to take advantage of Pryor’s game breaking wheels. Those plays went for 13, 1, and 17 yards in the preseason game against the Cowboys. While Pryor hasn’t improvised any runs so far this preseason, the Oakland coaching staff is encouraging him to trust his instincts and use his legs more. Here’s head coach Dennis Allen (courtesy of the LA Times) discussing the red zone play against the Cowboys where Pryor threw an interception across his body rather than run it in for the easy score:
“That’s been one thing we’ve consistently talked to Terrelle about is in those situations, don’t be afraid to use your legs,” Allen said. “Don’t be afraid to use your skill set. … Not every play has to be a great play, not every play has to be a spectacular play.”
Between designed runs and Pryor’s innate ability to escape a collapsing pocket, it’s not a reach to assume that the former Buckeye will post around 40 rushing yards per game as the full time starter. With guaranteed rushing stats there to pad what are sure to be mediocre (or worse) passing numbers, Pryor becomes an interesting high floor option as a fantasy QB. Based on what he’s shown us so far, reasonable per game averages for Pryor would probably look something like:
170 passing yards, 1 pass TD, 1 INT, 40 rushing yards, .3 rush TD’s
In ESPN standard leagues that works out to about 15 fantasy points per game. By comparison, Matthew Stafford, Andrew Luck, and Russell Wilson averaged roughly 16 fantasy PPG last season. With Pryor’s electric play-making ability, I wouldn’t discount the potential for more (especially now that he’s apparently figured out that whole throwing a football thing).
Pryor is essentially 2011 Tim Tebow with slightly greater passing upside. Tebow, as you’ll recall, couldn’t hit his receivers if he pretended the football was a bible and they were agnostics, but it’s undeniable he was an every week fantasy starter due to his rushing prowess. Fantasy owners can count on the same from Terrelle Pryor when he gets his inevitable opportunity.
I’m certainly not claiming Pryor is destined to join the elite class of fantasy QBs this season. After all, he also has to survive behind the same o-line soon to face manslaughter charges in the Matt Flynn wrongful death trial. Unless you’re in a league with 14 plus teams, calling Pryor a late round lottery ticket is even a bit of a stretch. However, with the “wait on QB” strategy all the rage this year, many of you will find yourselves streaming the likes of Ryan Tannehill, Alex Smith, and Josh Freeman week to week. Pryor offers a high statistical floor that those QB’s do not, with big play upside to boot.
At the very least, when the Raiders are eulogizing Matt Flynn in a couple weeks, make sure you put in an aggressive bid to acquire Pryor’s services off the waiver wire.